Beating Israeli Drums in Petra

The Petra meeting on Thursday between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has not only changed nothing, but was also cunningly exploited by the Israeli royal guest to beat the drums of the Israeli message in the heart of the heritage of the Jordanians’ pride.

In the aftermath of the symbolic meeting and the informal and inconclusive talks over breakfast hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Petra between Abbas and Olmert, the media storm subsidised into the shocking outcome that the meeting has changed nothing and certainly doom a second would-be summit to failure:

Israel is still deeply entrenched in its unilateralism to dictate its preconditions and corner the Palestinian leadership into accepting the only Israeli option on the table: to co-ordinate with the Israeli government its unilateral plan to redeploy its occupation in the West Bank, with the precedent in the Gaza Strip as a guide!

The Petra meeting boiled down to be just a pressuring environment to squeeze the Palestinian leader into accepting the Israeli dictates and a media event to air Olmert’s preconditions for a breakthrough with Abbas, and indeed with any Palestinian in power regardless of who this person is.

Despite the hosting Jordanian monarch’s call on both men to adopt “confidence-building measures,” Olmert insensitively dismissed King Abdull II’s judgement that it was “time to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process,” and insisted that such a breakthrough becomes timely only when Abbas – and in fact the king himself as well as Israel’s other Arab peace partners –” adopts his dictated preconditions for a breakthrough.

The Israeli inheritor of Ariel Sharon’s “message of peace” reiterated his mentor’s message that no Palestinian partner exists yet:

  • Olmert explicitly disqualified the Palestinian leader as incompetent in spite of his “good intentions,” and said: “I think that Abu Mazen is a genuine person, … But to the best of my knowledge, he is not the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority” and “the political power is not with him.”
  • Sidestepping Abbas as unqualified, he excluded the second player in the Palestinian tragic drama, namely the democratically-elected Hamas-led government, as a government run by a “terrorist organization condemned by the civilized world.”
  • Olmert also ruled out any potential Jordanian mediation by dooming it as untimely and insensitively ignoring his host’s insistence that the resumption of negotiations must be based on the internationally-drafted and U.N.-adopted “Road Map” that stipulates the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

He ruled out negotiations altogether. “As long as political power rests with the terrorists, we cannot negotiate,” he said.

To make a bad situation worse, Olmert undiplomatically tested the cordial royal hospitality of his hosts to seize on the occasion to beat the drums of his arrogant preconditions:

Israel has “three, non-negotiable” preconditions before opening substantive negotiations on a final peace agreement: “total disarmament of terrorist organizations and total cessation of violence, full implementation of agreements and recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” he said, adding: “The difficulty of engaging in actual negotiations depends on this.”

Answering positively to those preconditions is not enough. The Palestinians have to accept also a fait accompli:

  • Israel would not return to its pre-1967 boundaries.
  • Major Jewish settlement blocks will be annexed to Israel.
  • “There will be blocks of settlements that will remain, that cannot be evacuated,” Olmert said.

Rendering his lip service apology for the recent deaths of Palestinian civilians in Israeli military strikes, Olmert added fuel to the fire and promised the Palestinian civilians more: “Israel will continue to carry out targeted attacks” and “Pinpoint preventions” of attacks, despite growing numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties, he said.

However, “pinpointing” the Palestinian leader politically in Petra was counterproductive.

The Palestinians would never accept Israel’s imposition of borders, will insist on a state within 1967 borders and that Israeli unilateralism would lead to further conflict, Abbas told reporters.

The Israelis “may impose, but it won’t put an end to the conflict. We may not have the power to prevent this, but we have the will to say no,” Abbas said.

Beating the Israeli drums in Petra won’t solve the conflict with Israel, nor break the impasse in the peace process, or ease the inter-Palestinian deadlock.

It will only perpetuate the bloody conflict, exacerbate the internal Palestinian strife and put President Abbas in a more difficult position internally and externally.

Olmert’s statements in Petra gave more ammunition to the incumbent Hamas, the rival of Abbas’ former ruling movement, Fatah, leading Palestinian observers to conclude that this was exactly Olmert’s goal, i.e. exacerbating the inter-Palestinian strife.

In a statement, Hamas spared no time to strongly criticize Abbas for meeting Olmert as “guests of honor.”

“We had expected, in the light of Zionist massacres ordered by Olmert against the Palestinians and in view of the U.S.-Zionist siege imposed on our people, that the president of the Palestinian Authority refrains from meeting this terrorist (Olmert) until the killings stop and the siege on the Palestinian people and its government is lifted,” the statement said.

Olmert’s rejection of negotiations and the Road Map, and his insistence on going it alone has yet to convince even many Israelis.

The Israeli prominent military commentator of Haaretz, Ze’ev Schiff, on Friday ridiculed Olmert’s “convergence” plan as a convergence to “Israel’s new combat lines. That is what happened with the lines of the disengagement from Gaza: They turned into new combat lines – after the entire world had praised Ariel Sharon for the withdrawal.”

“A leader who deceives himself and the public about this is being irresponsible,” Schiff wrote.